About four years ago I wrote a column called The Disappearing President and the vitriol that was spewed in response really shocked me. It was a plaintive cry akin to “Hey. We finally have a minority President…isn’t that enough for you?” The knee jerk defense of a President who can’t win a fight even when he has the advantage has become the tragedy of the American Democrat. The only thing we love more than a win is a symbolic win. Symbols survive the tedious details of history. This is a bit like conservatives watching Jan Brewer stick her finger in Obama’s face in a private tête-à-tête. Obama has won the biggest prize of all: the Presidency, a position that will guarantee money and fame and power for him and his relations in perpetuity. The Obama presidency is not just a win, it’s symbolic win for the land of the free and the home of the brave. Unfortunately, Barack Obama is already tired of it, and no matter what his ultimate decision on the pipeline, his entire administration is out of gas.
Think about the millions of Texans, many disaffected, poor, disenfranchised, who got out and voted for him because they wanted jobs and health care. The healthcare package that includes expansion of Medicaid doesn’t work in Texas because the Governor says so. Vital elements of women’s health care in the bill are blocked in Texas because the American Taliban here are quite literally speaking for the God of the Bible who tells them how to legislate. And where is Barack Obama while millions suffer? He’s in Senegal delivering panegyrics to the slave trade. And where is stimulus money that would so invigorate the poor in American and get commerce rolling again? Well, it’s still sitting in the National Treasury because those damned Republicans keep blocking it.
What did George W. Bush do when the public and the Congress pressed him for details about the weapons of mass destruction? He doubled and tripled down, held panels, brought ‘experts’ in and pushed until we were rolling through Iraq’s cities burning effulgent in the glory of American military power. The reason history likes W, despite the disastrous mess after his two terms in office is easy to understand: He won his fights. No matter how obviously concocted the war was, he got his war and his massive surveillance state that we are now just peering into and he even got this country, once famed for its principled fairness to torture people. Obama can’t even get this country to be nice. It’s actually frightening to see your president so weakened that Federal authority no longer reaches across our borders. Republicans think that’s great. I am frightened to death to see that the government of my state trumps the government of my country, states rights notwithstanding.
The bad news is that what happened this week in Texas is really just a symbolic win. It was the light of day that forced the Republicans to admit they lost the battle and couldn’t just decide at midnight to go ahead and vote on it when the clock ran out. Next week or next month they will use their super majority powers to force the bill through and that will be that. But state Senator Wendy R. Davis stood up to the Republicans and earned the respect of the same people who put Obama in office. She did something we are all secretly wishing Obama would do.
Stand for something. Literally.
With a tiny fraction of the authority or purview that the President has, she ignited a passion for something. In her pink athletic shoes she stood for something. Like a small town high school football team that goes to the championships and whips the perennial super teams; like Game 5 of the Heat and the Pacers, when a young team just schooled LeBron for one night. This week when the Supreme Court threw out essential provisions of the Voting Rights Act, Obama of course reasonably suggested that Congress had better act to protect voters. And when the Supreme Court threw out the Defense of Marriage Act, Obama admitted that states might make that all but moot, so those Gay people will still face a struggle. He didn’t seem upset. He didn’t seem flustered. The implied message is that you are on your own because he isn’t going to do a thing about it but complain about obstructionism. In those press conferences from Africa the President seemed like a guy who can’t wait for this all to be over so he can just go home and channel surf. He should do that. Maybe he will come across a Wendy R. Davis at ten minutes to midnight in her pink shoes and her hand in the air gesticulating about a principle. And just maybe he might be reminded that when you fight, you might win. When you don’t fight, you can’t win.